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"When you have a brother or sister or relation, a friend, whatever, it’s a personal thing," says poll respondent Mike Haigerty, 49, of Indianapolis. The director of religious education at a Catholic parish, he opposes same-sex marriage as a "slippery slope" that would separate sex from procreation in violation of his church’s teachings.
Still, he says, "One of my closest friends has a younger brother who has a partner. I see their family at Christmas. Doug and John are great guys. We just don’t talk about it. It’s like ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ " When the issue is seen through the perspective of people you know, Haigerty says, "that really pulls on people’s hearts."
Asked in an open-ended question why they back gay marriage, about one in 10 supporters cite friends or family members who are gay or lesbian. A third volunteer that love and happiness should matter, not sexual orientation, and a third cite equal rights. Fourteen percent say the issue shouldn’t be one that is up to the government or them.
Asked why they are against gay marriage, nearly half of opponents say it violates the Bible’s precepts or their religion; 16 percent call it morally wrong. Six percent say civil unions should be enough.
Indeed, a wide national consensus has emerged on granting same-sex couples the economic rights that civil unions generally guarantee. In the poll, more than three of four Americans support inheritance rights for same-sex couples and say gay men and lesbians should have access to their partners’ health insurance and employee benefits.
Even among the demographic groups most strongly opposed to gay marriage — seniors, conservatives, Republicans and frequent churchgoers — a majority endorse those rights.
The national poll of 1,015 adults, taken Nov. 26-29, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. At the end of the survey, 4.9 percent said in response to a question that they were gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. That’s higher than the 3.5 percent response Gallup typically has gotten, possibly because the previous survey questions dealt mostly with gay rights.
A separate poll was taken Nov. 27-29 of 251 adults who had identified themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in the Gallup daily tracking poll this year. The margin of error for that survey is plus or minus 6 percentage points.
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